Sinner and Saint
We began this series back in June with a lesson from I Samuel 8 – Israel Demands a King. In this passage the prophet Samuel explains to the people of Israel what the consequences of having a King would be: These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you… he says, and then he goes on to list a series of potential abuses of power that the people should expect from their human king. Included in the list is conscription for the army in order to engage in endless (and pointless) wars, excessive taxation, the appropriation of land, and the taking sons and daughters to use as he sees fit. The people push all of this aside and demand a king anyway – so they can be like the nations! (See I Sam 8:10-22) And in our lesson today – in the very well known story of David and Bathsheba – we see that Samuel’s predictions are coming true. David has become a petty despot and a tyrant who uses his power to fulfill his own needs and wants.
I suppose that when you heard that we would be focusing on the story of David and Bathsheba this week you probably thought that we would be talking about sex. Certainly this story is often cited as a cautionary tale about the negative consequences of sexual misconduct and having affairs. Well, this story is not about sex – this is a story about power and the abuse of power. In addition, this is not a story about the consequences of breaking only the 6th commandment (“You shall not commit adultery”) but a story that shows that one commandment is linked to another and as we fail in one we can easily find ourselves sinking into a pit that is covered by the broken pieces of many other commandments. We can start with commandment #1 – “You shall have no other gods.” Power and glory have become gods for David. In the very first verse we learn that David sends the army to the field, not to meet a threat, but rather to engage in a power show because it is the season when “the kings go out to battle” and there they ravage the Ammonites and besiege Rabbah. Kings like to acquire territory and they like to subjugate people.
But David doesn’t go this time, maybe he is bored with war; maybe he has administrative details to attend to. Soon David has noticed a lovely young woman and he easily then breaks commandment #10 - “You shall not covet.” This leads in pretty quick succession to his breaking of commandment #6 – adultery, and then #8 – bearing false witness (that would be lying) (#7 is in there too); and finally #5 – murder. And please note – David is the actor here. This is not an “affair” for there is no mutuality. Bathsheba is not in a position to refuse or object to the king’s advances. She is used and discarded (see verse 4). This is an act of sexual violence and abuse of power. David engaged in this series of actions because he could and no one could stop him. Not only that, but David used others to carry out his orders in order to not stain his hands with the dirty work of abduction, rape, cover-up and murder.
David’s actions in this story have far-reaching implications for the subsequent history of Israel. Bathsheba is a smart and clever woman who eventually gives birth to Solomon and then engages in political intrigue in order to secure the throne for him. But that is many years in the future. At this point she is a victim, and since the penalty for adultery is death by stoning, she is in mortal danger because of what David did to her. (I might add at this point that, this kind of abuse of power is still with us. Most often it is powerful men who prey on women who do not have the standing to object. Our news is often filled with these kinds of stories, and sometimes, tragically, these modern stories end up being as tragic and destructive as the our story about David and Bathsheba.) Some see the 10 commandments as being restrictive on freedom and as being overly religious. This story shows us that the 10 commandments are, in fact, a gift that provides for us a structure for living in community in ways that honor God, are respectful of others and enable us all to live and flourish. And that ignoring them can have some serious consequences.
So David is a sinner! Big time! Like us! We may not be guilty of the excessive abuse of power to the extent that David is; but we have all had our failings where we have put ourselves and our own needs above respecting others and honoring God. We have used others for our own gain, have we not? We are all guilty! But as Christians we look to Christ for forgiveness, we look to the “Son of David” to cleanse us from our sin and bring us to wholeness. Jesus is the “Son of David.” It is interesting to consider that phrase in the context of this story. Jesus, Son of David, is nothing like David! Consider these words from the Gospel of St. Mark:
42So Jesus called them (the disciples) and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45)
Jesus is nothing like David. Jesus redeems David, the sinner, in the same way that Jesus redeems us sinners, making us Saints. So we are both “Saint and Sinner” at the same time, to use a phrase that Luther coined. The Sinner in us pulls us down, it destroys our relationships, it destroys our self-respect, it takes and takes and takes and never gives, it limits and even can destroy our ability to meet our potential as Children of God. But because of Christ we are made Saints who have been forgiven and washed clean and given a new start daily. This is God’s doing, through Christ, and comes to us as a free and unconditional gift. But like any other gift we need to be able to reach out and take it. This can be very difficult sometimes and we can come up with all kinds of reasons why we cannot possibly accept God’s gift. But yet God continues to offer the gifts of God’s love and grace and peace to us, through Jesus, the Christ – the son of David. May we be granted to ability to reach out and take that which God offers.
So, as we consider this text - who in the story do you identify with? David, who is totally self-focused and uses his power to victimize others; Bathsheba who is victimized and who's life is shattered and filled with fear; Uriah who is deceived by the King and officers he has dedicated his life to serving; or Joab and the servants and lackeys who are "just following orders" but in so doing are complicit in an acts of sexual violence and a murder? We are, all of us, fallen and we live in a fallen world. God offers to us forgiveness and healing, but it is important to say that this doesn't mean that I am suggesting that there are no consequences and long term scars and struggles. Sometimes God works in a process which might take a long time, and forgiveness never means that there are no consequences. I encourage you to prayerfully consider this text, the events described and the characters; and then remember that Christ offers to us unconditional grace, forgiveness, healing and wholeness.
Thanks to Peace Lutheran Church is Sioux Falls, South Dakota for these wonderful graphics and permission to use them.